Date story published: Wednesday, December 31, 1997
ATHENS, Ohio - "Go white."
With that simple command, Coach Tubby Smith changed Kentucky's starting lineup for the first time this season.
During UK's shootaround practice yesterday afternoon, Smith matter-of-factly told Nazr Mohammed to "go white" - that is join the starting group.
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That meant the Cats' regular starting center, Jamaal Magloire, would join the reserves. Or "go blue" for the first time this season.
Coincidentally or not, Kentucky's two big men each scored a team-high 15 points as the Cats routed outmanned Ohio 95-58 last night.
Forward Scott Padgett played down the lineup change as a key factor in Kentucky meeting Smith's demand for a more-intense, more-focused performance. The loss was Ohio's most lopsided in the 28-year history of its Convocation Center.
"I don't think the change really meant a lot," said Padgett, whose 13 points (his most in a month) reflected UK's David-and-Goliath advantage inside. The Cats' front-line players outscored Ohio's 63-15.
"If anything, Coach might have wanted to send a message to Jamaal to pick up his play," Padgett speculated. "And he definitely stepped up and played big."
Magloire's 15 points represented his high since Maui (18 points against Missouri). The 30 points marked a combined season-high for UK's centers.
"I don't think there's a center in the nation that can get those numbers," Padgett said.
Mohammed, Magloire and Smith played down the significance of the switch. Neither player said starting meant anything to him. Both voiced support for whatever will help the team.
"Coach Smith is a smart coach," Magloire said. "I stand by any decision he makes."
"I felt like we needed to make a change," said Smith, who hinted at the move after Kentucky lost to archrival Louisville Saturday. "Nazr had been playing well lately. Then I found out their big kid was down. That meant we didn't need a defensive presence (Magloire's strength) as much."
Ohio played without its only player with size, 6-foot-11, 250-pound freshman Nick Terry. Terry, who was diagnosed yesterday with an irregular heartbeat, averaged only 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds. But he did represent size and at least five fouls.
"We were outmanned at every position," Ohio Coach Larry Hunter said. "They kind of had their way with us inside."
Domination inside propelled Kentucky to a 46-31 halftime lead. The 15-point difference was only three points shy of UK's victory margin in its last three games against Ohio combined.
As much as anything, that reflected how this game, a reward former UK Coach Rick Pitino bestowed on Ohio, would not resemble any of the recent hotly competitive games between the schools.
UK, the team that matched its season high of 23 three-point shots against Louisville Saturday, went back to its strength: the inside game. That Ohio started only one player taller than 6-7 (6-8 Diante Fienorl) only enhanced Kentucky's dominance around the basket.
UK did not hesitate to exploit the size mismatch. Twelve of the Cats' first 14 baskets came from either post-up shots, dunks, tips or rebound put-backs.
In fact, Kentucky directed its offense into the paint area 23 times in the game's first 17 minutes. That counted a weird low-post hook shot by Allen Edwards (gravity could not guide it in) and three walking violations when players began post-up moves.
"That was the focus of the entire game plan," Padgett said of going inside. "To make sure we got the ball inside early. It was stressed even more because that was the game plan for Louisville. We did it early (against U of L), then we got away from it. That was a big reason we lost."
UK almost couldn't help but dominate inside against Ohio. But Smith suggested the Cats should go to the paint more often against any opponent. "My concern all year long has been we hadn't done enough of it," he said.
By contrast, Ohio got next to nothing done in the post. From 18:22 until 4:51 of the first half, the Bobcats did not score a two-point basket.
Jim Peterson's three-point shooting - four treys and three free throws while being fouled on a three-point miss - kept the halftime margin respectable.
But Kentucky was not in the mood to grant Ohio any chance at respectability.
Besides pounding the ball inside, the Cats also pressed effectively. Three times Ohio's point guard, 5-10 redshirt freshman Dustin Ford, called 20-second timeouts when trapped.
Ohio committed 24 turnovers, the most by a Kentucky opponent this season.
"We wanted to come out and really set the tone from the pressure standpoint," Smith said, "and we did a good job. We needed a game (like this) after a tough loss. We needed a good win and a good effort. And I think we got that."